February 25, 2013

How quickly things change. It wasn't all that long ago that financial services organizations were cautiously testing mobile applications in pilots. Even as late as last year, some banks were still piloting certain mobile functionality (such as mobile deposit) to select groups of customers.

Mobile FirstWall Street & Technology's March 2013 digital issue takes an in-depth look at how mobile apps have become so pervasive that many financial services firms are developing their applications with mobility in mind first. To read more, download our March 2013 digital issue now.

Security was the reason most firms were slow to adopt mobile apps, along with the belief that many financial customers would never trust mobile technology.

Consumerization of IT in the enterprise, or the corporate world's adoption of consumer-focused technology, along with the rapid rise of iOS, has changed the way financial institutions think about mobile technology, develop it, and deploy it to internal employees and external customers.

At most firms, mobile adoption by both employees and customers started gradually. For instance, a few executives requested -- or demanded, depending on their titles -- that their iPhone have access to simple things such as corporate email. Or retail customers expressed the desire to trade on a mobile device.

[The Top 10 Mobile Apps on Wall Street]

Once employees and customers got a taste for mobility, the floodgates opened. First everyone wanted email access, and then the requests expanded to other corporate systems, such as CRM.

Customers also began to demand more from their financial providers. As OS capabilities evolved and customers saw complex apps from other companies, they began to ask for full account access, charting functionality, research and more.

Today, almost all financial services firms have a bring-your-own-device policy. In fact, just over a year ago when I used the term BYOD at one of our banking conferences, I received a few laughs, since many in the audience hadn't heard it before. Today, almost every enterprise IT executive knows that, I imagine.

Mobile is becoming so pervasive that many organizations are developing their applications with mobility in mind first. Only after the mobile functionality is developed are firms thinking about how to apply that same functionality to desktop browsers. This, of course, is a completely different method of development from what almost every enterprise had been using when it came to mobile. Traditionally, tools were developed for a Web user who was likely using a desktop or laptop. Now, the expectation is that the user is on a mobile device and may never access his or her financial firm from a traditional PC.

You can see the influence that mobility is already having on many financial websites. Citi's consumer banking site, PayPal and E-Trade all have a mobile look and feel.

This "mobile first" trend will continue with both enterprise and customer-facing apps. After all, the ease of use mobile provides makes it hard for anyone to deny its benefits to either the customer or to a financial institution's thousands of employees.

Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology.